Title: A Little Drop Of Poison
Author: Misty Flores
Genre: Legend of the Seeker, Cara/Kahlan – Western AU
Teaser: And so it begins, in the darkest hours of the night, in the company of an old man and a killer, Kahlan embarks on the journey to save the life of her dearest friend, and in the process take on the most dangerous gang of outlaws New Austin has ever seen.
Notes: A LOTS Western AU in a world inspired by the Red Dead Universe.
Prologue: By Hook or Crook
"I hear you speak and suddenly
I'm reminded of how the people
I respected most in my life
had a problem with authority."
In the wilderness outside of Armadillo, the stars shine brightly against a black sky. Crickets chirp loudly, sounding free and unafraid; safe under the cover of darkness.
Some of the locals have said that the night belongs to the devil, but Kahlan Amnell has never believed that. With the darkness comes a quiet that long ago, she was taught to appreciate. Away from the stench of the unpaved roads of town, the air smells crisp and clean. Kahlan takes a moment to suck it in and lets the frontier seep into her lungs with its chilly familiarity.
It steadies her nerves; gives her balance for what she is about to do.
Cholla Springs, even with its numerous imperfections and constantly shifting landscape, has been her home for a very long time. She is about to leave it, skunking out of town like a common outlaw.
"This is a mistake," Zedd whispers in her ear. He says it low, but not low enough. Kahlan stiffens, and casts a gaze across the dirt to a deceptively small blonde standing next to a black horse a few feet away. In the middle of steadying her saddle with strong, quick tugs, if Cara Mason hears Zedd's comment, she makes no indication of it. "Crossing into Mexican territory with a Mord'Sith? We may as well be delivering Richard's casket, along with our own."
The old man speaks doubts that are every bit her own. She does not need to be reminded of them.
Kahlan exhales, watches as the puff of condensation dissipates into the cold air. "Zedd, I'm not having this argument again."
"We can't trust her, Kahlan."
It's Zedd stating the obvious, and it irritates her all the more. "You don't think I know that?" she hisses, eyes flashing as her grip tightens against her saddled bag.
"There are options –"
"There are no options, Zedd," she snaps, because it's true. "There's not a man within sixty miles of here who'd be willing to go after the Darken Rahl and the Mord'Sith gang, not even for a man like Richard. You know it as well as I do." Dark eyes look upon her somberly. Zedd has no dispute. She swallows hard, and turns back to her Bay Mare. She shoves hard, pushing at the horse to keep her steady. "I'm the last of my kind, Zedd," she admits, but her sentimental words do not waver. There's no time for it here. "And you and Richard are all I've known as family. By hook or crook, I'm getting him back, even if it means riding into Mexico with a Mord'Sith bent on vengeance. He'd do the same for me."
She supposes Zedd sees it, her grim determination, because he expels a heavy, sorrowful breath, like he's dying, and then gives her a misty-eyed smile that shines in the darkness of the night.
"You're right," he whispers sadly, "The two of you are two peas in a pod."
Over the horn of her saddle, she sees Cara Mason dig a boot into the stirrup and haul herself up onto her Gelding in a quick fluid move that speaks of experience and a lifetime of quick escapes.
She's a criminal and a killer, and she has no reason to honor her word to Kahlan that she will not run.
Truthfully, Kahlan half expects it.
But Cara does not run. She stays, tugging on the reigns and twisting the horse around until both animal and rider are staring at her with ill-disguised impatience.
"We're wasting time," Cara calls out. "Say your good-byes to the Wizard or take him with us, neither makes a difference to me."
The reminder of her presence makes Zedd's old leathered face go sour. "Why does she insist on calling me that?" he grumbles, hand on his holster as if by unconscious habit. "I'm a scientist."
Kahlan doesn't answer. She saves her concentration for the other woman, who stares at her with an expression that could be easily mistaken for boredom.
Since childhood, Kahlan has had an extraordinary gift – a sixth sense of sorts that allows her to truly read a person, dig deep inside of them and understand their deepest truths.
It has earned her the nickname of 'Mother Confessor' around these parts, because, the Sheriff once bragged, Kahlan could get any criminal to confess to anything.
But not a Mord'Sith. Not this Mord'Sith. Kahlan has no idea what the striking woman is thinking, and it runs a chill down her spine.
Zedd lets out a curse, struggling as his own mare steps away from him, nearly tripping as he tries to get his foot in the stirrup. "Hold still, you dang piece of crowbait!" he hollers.
Kahlan watches, before quietly mounting and settling onto the back of her mare. Zedd continues to struggle, and as her eyes flicker to Cara, she notes the tick of frustration, the look of impatience that flits across Cara's face.
"Zedd," she finds herself saying, as the old man finally settles astride his ornery horse. "You don't need to come with us."
He stares at her, affronted. "I wouldn't be no kind of a man if I didn't," he growls at her. "Two women, traveling alone in these parts? Into the hell that's Mexico, in the midst of revolution?"
"And what advantage does traveling with an old crow like you give us, Wizard?" Cara tosses out. "Other than your obvious skills in horsemanship, that is."
The glare he gives the other woman is like a blast of frostbite.
"You and I both know that I can hold my own," Kahlan interrupts gently, directing his focus towards her. She has a Colt Revolver packed on her hip, a repeater rifle in a satchel against the rigging of the saddle. "And I fear for your safety."
His look softens into one of tenderness. "And I for yours," he admits gently. The smile he gives her is sweet; fatherly. Kahlan's chest tightens with unshed emotion.
She holds it in. There is no time for it. "Zedd-"
"Trust me, for an old coot, I've got quite a few tricks of my sleeve. A few even a Mord'Sith should take notice of!" he snarls over his shoulder.
Cara's look is simple disgust.
Kahlan reaches out to squeeze his shoulder. "To the border," she bargains. "And no further."
The stranger known as Cara Mason only rolls her eyes, and turns her spurs into her horse's flanks, pushing into the direction of Rio Bravo and the Mexican Border.
"Sleep with a gun under your pillow tonight," Zedd murmurs, and follows.
And so it begins, in the darkest hours of the night, in the company of an old man and a killer, Kahlan embarks on the journey to save the life of her dearest friend, and in the process take on the most dangerous gang of outlaws New Austin has ever seen.
She's a woman, and though she is young and healthy, the West has proven to be a dangerous, unfriendly place.
Men like Richard Cypher are few and far between, and in this quest, she and this outlaw named Cara Mason have proven to be his only champions.
Kahlan takes a breath, and steels herself.
"By hook or by crook," she breathes, reminding herself of her own dedication, and spurs herself forward into the wild and the unknown.
Part I: Beat the Devil Around the Stump
"New Austin: the last real outlaw country. Where the old ways still hold true. You do a man wrong, he'll shoot you for it. You do a man right…well, he still may shoot you for it. But at least you have an idea of what's right and what's wrong here."
Sometimes at night she dreams of a reality that doesn't exist.
Of a world where she wears flowing white robes, and presides over a city with a castle.
Where magic flows from her fingertips and the world is as wild as this one, but there are no steamboats or trains or telegrams - just forests, dangerous women in leather, men who carry swords and call them truths and sprites that light up a forest.
As a child, she once told her adopted mother of these dreams. The old woman, with her dark weathered skin and wise brown eyes, only looked at her sagely and replied that not all dreams were fantasy.
In some world, some other time, some other reality, Kahlan had most assuredly lived in such a place, because there was no reason to believe she hadn't.
"The spirit of the Earth is strong with you, Child," she told her, in her native tongue. "Do not forsake her instinct within you – she will guide you to greatness."
In the wilds of New Austin, Kahlan Amnell has never forgotten the teachings of the Old Mother. Even as the world changes around her, she remembers her dreams, and she clings to her instincts.
The day the worst of it starts, the town of Armadillo is hot and dry. There is no wind to sweep the stench of horse manure away from the muddy dirty streets, and therefore, Kahlan has no motivation to wander outside of Zedd's store.
Kahlan has no real love for town life, or Armadillo's version of it. A part of her longs for the freedom of the wilderness. Another part of her recognizes this dark and dingy place as her home, if only through the kindness of Zedd and Richard.
"It's quiet today," she offers to the old man, who grunts from his place behind her, hunched over a dusty wooden table. He wears round goggles, and his face is coated with ash, in the midst of yet another experiment. "There hasn't been a customer yet, not even for cartridges."
"Bad for business," he answers gruffly, "But good for my health. Ever since Richard put on that damned Deputy's star I've been sleeping with one eye open."
In all honesty, it surprises both Kahlan and Richard that Zedd is so against Richard being deputized. Though most townfolk tend to take pride in the lawlessness of New Austin, Zedd has raised his nephew to be an idealistic sort of man, who believes in the greater good.
That kind of man cannot stand by and watch while women are beaten and raped by men who are in the grip of the devil called Whiskey, while hard working settlers endure famine and dry dirt to carve a life for themselves, only to lose their life's work when the bank is robbed by the bandits who find it too easy to take advantage.
In truth, if Kahlan were not a woman, she believes she would have followed Richard straight into the Marshall's office, and accepted a badge of her own.
"Richard can't help being who he is," she says quietly. "And if the rumors are true about Darken Rahl and his gang-"
Something sparks on the table, and Zedd jumps back, swearing silently. "God-Damn Darken Rahl and those God-Damn rumors," he spits. "The man is damn evil and that's the damned truth, but that kind of evil is like a weed out here. You pluck him out and ten more will grow in his place."
The very idea is enough to cause a shudder of revulsion. Kahlan can imagine few men in the world capable of the heinous crimes that Darken Rahl and his gang stand accused of. Even worse is the almost mythical status of his whores, so dedicated to him they carry their own name – the Mord'Sith.
"This town could use more men like Richard," she reasons. "He inspires the men around him to act against people like him."
Zedd's head lifts, and he eyes with a look that seems at once charmed and knowing. "Not just the men, it would seem." She is saved from responding when another spark spits from his table. This time, Zedd's swearing is almost French. "Those Indians of yours ever teach you about electricity?"
With a bemused smile, she shakes her head. "The Sisters of the Light believed the true elements existed in the spirits of all living things."
"And they call me a wizard," he grumbles. Zedd often speaks of bringing innovation of to the Old West, ridding the streets of manure and disease. It's city-talk, and most of the inhabitants of Armadillo almost seem to resent him for it. The nickname he so despises comes from his fascination of electricity and the constant inventions that come out of the little room behind the Gunsmith's shop. "There's been no word of our do-gooder, then?"
Kahlan shifts against the counter to glance at the closed door. She hears only the usual noise of horses trotting and men calling out to each other. Richard's voice is not among them. "Not since he left this morning. I can check the Marshall's office."
Zedd's fingers flick at her, dismissing the notion. "He'll turn up, he always does. Do me a favor and pick up the order from the grocer, will you? May as well get some chores done. I've got a hunch no one's gonna be buying a gun today, and if they do come in, it'll be just to take a look at your pretty face."
It's an exaggerated compliment. Though Kahlan has been called beautiful on more than one occasion, she is well aware of her spinster status at the old age of twenty-six.
"Rather your cooky old inventions, Zedd," she offers, but obeys, rounding the counter and heading for the door.
"Please!" Zedd squeaks from the table. "You could have yourself a husband tomorrow if you fancied one, and you know it!"
It's the start of a tiresome conversation they've had at least a hundred times before, and though the smell of the streets hits her like a slap in the face, Kahlan hurries out and slams the door shut hard behind her.
It's best to cut off such a conversation before it even starts.
"Miss Amnell." Mr. Roderick, the owner of the general store, pulls together her parcel and gives her a curiously nosey look. "There's a rumor that Darken Rahl's been spotted in New Austin."
The bluntness of the statement startles her, as does the questioning glance he sends in her direction, as if he's expecting confirmation.
"The reputation of a man like Darken's Rahl's feeds on such rumors, Mr. Roderick," she answers calmly. "I wouldn't take them seriously."
The grunt he offers in response is dismissive. "I would mention it to your beau, just as well. Can't be too careful nowadays."
Irritation fills her before she can quite help it, and it urges a less than polite response. "Deputy Cypher isn't my beau, Mr. Roderick," she snips. "I would be most appreciative if you stopped saying so."
The paper wrapped parcel drops on the counter, displaying a small cloud of dust that gets into Kahlan's nose and makes her want to sneeze.
"You best be careful, Miss Amnell." Mr. Roderick leans against the counter, voice grave with concern. "And hook that man while you can. There are plenty of younger gals in this town who've taken a shine to the good Deputy, and would be happy to do his cookin' and cleaning and to bear that man some fine children."
Kahlan has never doubted that. Richard Cypher was raised in Blackwater, and the city-dwelling shows in his linen waist coast and shiny black boots. He's a handsome man who takes care in his appearance, a rarity in these parts. With his boyish enthusiasm and his genuine kindness, he's considered to be quite the catch, especially in an outpost town like Armadillo.
Some woman, perhaps a young lass who wants only a stable home and a decent town life, will make him a fine wife, to mend his socks and cook his meals without fear of being beaten.
But that someone will not be Kahlan. It will never be Kahlan.
She pastes on an easy smile. "Then I suppose I may have to take my chances, Mr. Roderick." It's only concern, she tells herself, when Mr. Roderick's eyes narrow with obvious pity.
"You should be more grateful, Ms. Amnell." It's an authoritative tone Mr. Roderick employs, and all too familiar for her taste. "You're a lucky girl. Not many folks out here would have taken in a random stranger, and a girl raised by savages, at that."
Her knuckles tighten around her parcel, and Kahlan lifts her chin even as her fist clenches.
Any response she could have made is stolen from her when the door to the general store bursts open behind her, a loud clap of wood that startles her into nearly dropping her parcel.
Whirling, she discovers the disheveled face of a baby-faced deputy with ginger hair and a sweaty brow. "Deputy Flynn!"
A quick nod is all he gives her for pleasantry. "The Marshall sent me," he says, voice raspy and urgent. "Said he needed you right away."
The urgent tone, the way he stares at her with such panicked worry, sends a chill down her spine. "Is Deputy Cypher all right?"
"Yes, ma'am, he's fine," he rasps, and Kahlan takes a moment to close her eyes and breathe her sigh of relief. It does not last. "We need you right away, Miss! We've got ourselves one of them Mord'Sith whores!"
The Marshall of Armadillo has a solid body and a full white beard. He is a good man, but hardened by frontier life. There is a scar on his cheek and rough calluses on his hands. The badge on his chest seems to weigh on him like an anchor.
As Kahlan enters, he rises to his feet by pushing his palms against his knees, grimacing against the movement.
"Miss Amnell, Lord knows I hate to bring a woman into this," he says, removing his hat. "But I'll be damned if anyone in this town can read a person better than you." Kahlan acknowledges him with a nod, but her focus already veers to the cells directly behind him.
It's Richard she sees first. He stands by the rusty metal bars and gives her a grim, familiar nod.
"Kahlan," he says, too absorbed in the current predicament to care about formality. Shifting away from the cell, he reveals a woman slumped on the lumpy, threadbare mattress made of hay that lies on the dusty floor of the jail cell.
She's wearing men's pants and a dirty tank top underneath a black vest. Blonde hair the color of the sun-bleached straw spreads against the pillow, but those details seem almost invisible compared to the bruise going purple on the side of the woman's mouth, the split lip cracked and basted with blood.
"She's been beaten," she breathes, and isn't aware she's taken a step towards the cell until Richard grabs hold of her shoulder, keeping her in place. "Richard, she needs a doctor."
"She's not getting a doctor," the Marshall snaps. "She ain't getting so much as a sip of water until we figure out who she is and how the hell a Mord'Sith landed in our lap like a damn Christmas present."
It's a callous statement, but Kahlan's heart stutters at the very idea. That this woman could be a Mord'Sith, a group of women so dangerous they're considered consorts of the devil himself, seems almost unfathomable.
Not when she looks so… weak.
"How can you be sure she's a Mord'Sith?" she whispers. She feels the solid reassurance of Richard as he shifts against her, points her in the direction of the empty cell beside them both.
Dark red leather chaps are strung over the chair. Though they're caked dirty with mud and blood, they're every bit the signature color of Darken Rahl's gang.
Her blood runs cold.
"Cypher found her," the Marshall comments, sounding less than thrilled about the prospect. "Half-beaten and damn near dead, barely clinging to her horse just outside town. Should have left her there to die, son."
"Marshall!" Richard snaps. "There's a lady present."
"Well, I'm sorry, Ma'am! You know as well as I do that the minute someone sees them chaps and figures out they're for real, there's either gonna be a lynching or a panic, or this place is gonna turn into a freak show."
They are words she doesn't want to hear, but as she glances at Richard, she understands the truth of them.
If this is truly a Mord'Sith in this cell, the unusually peaceful last few weeks that Armadillo has enjoyed has come to an abrupt end.
"I would never leave a woman that needs help, Marshall," Richard says, voice strong and clear and so very Richard. "Not even Darken Rahl's whore."
"Son, with that mouth, you shoulda been a politician, not a lawman." The Marshall arches his brow at him in exasperation, and shakes his head, turning to Kahlan. "At first light I'm putting her in a coach and sending her to them Federal fellas in Blackwater, but before she goes, we need some answers. That's where you come in, Miss Amnell."
Kahlan absorbs the words, before her gaze once again moves to the unconscious woman in the jail cell.
It feels oddly like she's been placed in front of an oncoming tornado, and been told to stop it in it's tracks.
Richard, as always, is a gentleman. He's pumped water from the well, and it's sitting beside him on the bench outside the Marshall's office, ready and waiting for the moment the Marshall will allow him to give aid to the Mord'Sith.
Kahlan takes in his earnest, worried expression – the way the sweat trickles on his brow and he distractedly brushes at it with his sleeve, before placing his hat back on top of his head.
"Regardless of who she is, the Marshall should at least let me clean her wounds before she dies of infection."
She feels an ache within her. It battles with her affection, because it's in these instances that she feels older and wiser than Richard could ever hope to be.
She takes a seat on the bench beside him. "Richard," she begins gently. "Maybe the Marshall has a point."
The look his gives her is full of surprise and disappointment. "Kahlan."
"She's a Mord'Sith," she snaps, and is unable to keep the disgust out of her tone. "You and I both know what that means. She's one of Darken Rahl's. She's a killer."
"There are far too few good men in this world to care about the welfare of the bad."
Richard's palms press together. His eyes darken. "With that mentality we're not any better than them, Kahlan, and you know that."
Perhaps. Perhaps Kahlan isn't any better than a Mord'Sith whore, but in her memory stills lives the slaughter of her sisters, of the tribe she once called family, and the scarring runs deep.
She says nothing.
"She may be a killer. She may not be. She was beaten and left for dead, Kahlan, by her own gang. There has to be a reason for it."
He says it so fervently, Kahlan can't help but be taken aback. "You act as if you know her."
Richard's brow furrow. His hands flex. "You will talk to her, won't you, Kahlan?"
His brown eyes focus on hers with such pleading, it strikes her breathless. "Richard," she begins with mounting dread. "What is it?"
He stares intensely, as if replaying the memory in his head. "When I found her, half dead barely conscious, she looked at me. It was the way she looked at me, Kahlan. Like she knew me. And then..."
He fades off, deep in thought. Kahlan finds herself with no patience. "And then what, Richard?"
Chapped lips purse, before dark eyes meet hers, worry flickering within them. "She said she was sorry."